Thursday, November 13, 2014

Invention of the Day: Wine

In 2007, a team of Armenian and Irish archeologists discovered a 6,100-year-old winery in the Areni cave near a small Armenian village.

The discovery meant that people started producing wines in significant volumes thousands of years ago. More importantly, our ancient ancestors had specifically selected and cultivated grapes because of their high sugar content. That is, since grapes contain up to 20% glucose by volume, when fermented, they produce a large amount of alcohol (ethanol).

Although we know that even wild animals enjoy an occasional doze of alcohol feasting on fermented fruit, wine is different.

The significance of the invention of wine thousands of year ago becomes apparent when we compare it to the invention of large scale food production, e.g. grain cultivation, domestication of animals, irrigation, etc.

It [the invention of wine] completely defies the common wisdom "Necessity is the mother of invention." The proverb implies that people invent or solve problems when they are compelled to do so. But, unlike food, water,  and shelter, wine is not a necessity; one can survive without it. Moreover, certain cultures and religions explicitly forbid alcohol consumption.

Therefore, wine is not a necessary, but, rather, an opportunistic invention; something that makes life more fun (when taken in moderation). Here's how an ancient Greek poet Eubulus (4th century BCE) describes  the effects of wine:
Three bowls do I mix for the temperate: one to health, which they empty first; the second to love and pleasure; the third to sleep. When this bowl is drunk up, wise guests go home. The fourth bowl is ours no longer, but belongs to violence; the fifth to uproar; the sixth to drunken revel; the seventh to black eyes; the eighth is the policeman's; the ninth belongs to biliousness; and the tenth to madness and the hurling of furniture.
Wine is like modern computer games: you can live without it, but life would be less enjoyable.

As human inventors, we create necessities by coming up with novel ideas and making them useful to other humans on a large scale. Based on thousands of years of ever-improving and ever-increasing wine production, I would say that "Invention is the mother of necessity."

Friday, November 07, 2014

ArborLight startup wins 2014 Next Generation Luminaires (NGL) competition

Congratulations to my co-author Max Shtein! The startup he co-founded won a national competition for innovative energy efficient indoor lighting fixtures.

<blockquote>Arborlight is virtually inventing a new lighting product category: daylight emulation. We all love daylight. It makes us feel good, be more productive, have more energy, the list goes on and on. Yet, the reality for many is that to work, learn, shop and generally go about our daily business, we are forced to spend most of our time indoors with little or no access to daylight. The aim of Arborlight’s Solis is to remedy that situation. The Solis product allows you to create an indoor environment that simulates daylight in where it would be otherwise impossible, literally mimicking the sun. It’s Wi-Fi enabled, has the appearance of a traditional skylight, emulates daylight conditions, and autonomously adjusts color, intensity, and directionality throughout the day to match outdoor illumination. Essentially, it provides people with the ability to experience morning, high noon, and evening light conditions in a windowless space.</blockquote>

Thursday, November 06, 2014

The Internet of Things: malware threat to US energy infrastructure

Destructive "foreign" software is becoming a weapon of choice for covert international operations. For example, according to today's ABC report:

National Security sources told ABC News there is evidence that the malware was inserted by hackers believed to be sponsored by the Russian government, and is a very serious threat.

The hacked software is used to control complex industrial operations like oil and gas pipelines, power transmission grids, water distribution and filtration systems, wind turbines and even some nuclear plants. Shutting down or damaging any of these vital public utilities could severely impact hundreds of thousands of Americans.

In our book, Scalable Innovation, Chapter 3, we discuss in detail one of the system security inventions I made back in 2000, while at Philips Research. The invention, US Patent 7,092,861, aims to detect novel viruses that can target networked equipment in the home, office, or industrial cite (the patent is now owned by Facebook).

More than a decade ago, it was clear to us in the labs that the emerging Internet of Things creates new types of threats. Unless such threats are addressed through a broad, consistent industry and government efforts, our critical infrastructure will be highly vulnerable to vicious attacks that could dwarf in their destructive power the events of 9/11. Ideally, all existing industrial software has to be upgraded - a difficult, but essential task for the next two decades.